Denzil Ware and Josh Allen comprise one of the better outside linebacker combinations in the Southeastern Conference. Ware was a highly sought after 4-star prospect according to 247Sports. Allen was a late committing 2-star. Regardless of varying circumstance and expectations surrounding their arrival to Lexington, both have prospered under Mark Stoops’ tutelage. Ware and Allen described how they’re paying it forward by grooming the Wildcat’s next generation of edge defenders during Sunday’s Media Day interview session. Here are their comments on mentoring freshmen and breaking Kentucky’s all-time QB sack record:
Question: Are you aware that Oliver Barnett’s 26 QB sacks still stands as a program record? Barnett graduated in 1989.
Denzil Ware: “Yes sir, I think about that all the time. I see pictures of him (Oliver Barnett) and see his son Elijah (Barnett-UK LB and Oliver’s son) and think, dang, you got a lucky daddy.”
Question: Are you working with freshmen OLBs Josh Paschal, Alex King, and Jordan Wright and helping them to develop into SEC caliber football players?
Josh Allen: “We are just pushing them to be the best person they can possibly be on and off the field. We work with them extra so they can learn the plays now so if anything happens to Zel and I, we got people to come in and help. We try to take them under our wing on and off the field.”
Denzil Ware: “Gotta let them find their way, we had player led practices early and gave them playbook to study. Yes, we have worked with them.”
Josh Paschal is arguably the Wildcat’s top recruit in a loaded 2017 class. I can honestly say that of all Stoops’ hauls, the 2017 group as a whole is the most impressive I’ve seen yet. Now, we have to remember that this refers to the eye test. Actual 11-on-11 football against college competition is yet to be seen. However, these rookies aren’t backing down.
A trio of defenders that specialized in harassing quarterbacks in high school are now playing a position in which pass coverage plays a large part of their responsibilities. I’m referring to outside linebackers Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, and Alex King.
Paschal is listed at 6’3, 270-pounds and primarily played with his hand in the dirt, 4-3 defensive end. At 6’3, 225-pounds, King was primarily an OLB in high school. He was considered by some experts as the top edge pass rusher in the Midwest coming out of Ohio. Wright was a two-sport star out of Florida and possesses preferred length at the position, 6’5 250-pounds. Pass rush will come easy for the highly skilled newcomers. Pass coverage could be a tricky proposition early on in their careers. I asked them about it:
Question: Primarily used as a pass rusher in high school, are you more comfortable dropping in pass coverage since you arrived on campus?
Josh Paschal: “Yes, I’m comfortable in pass defense now. It’s been something I’m focusing on while I’ve been here.”
Alex King: “My pass defense is getting stronger, I’m more confident against the pass now.”
Jordan Wright: “With help from the older guys I’m feeling comfortable vs. the pass.”
One thing is certain, future opposing quarterbacks will not have the luxury of previewing the field at their own leisure when these three rookies figure it all out. Kentucky’s QB sack number increased from 17 in 2015 to 21 a year ago. These numbers should pale in comparison to future totals.
Paschal, King, and Wright all look as if they can play right now. Will they see the field as true freshman? That answer won’t or can’t come to fruition until at least one week of full padded practice is in the books. The present and the future are extremely bright at outside linebacker.